Saturday, November 26, 2011

Does Matt Fraction Add or Subtract from the Equation?


A favorite Marvel comics property - to me anyway.
Founded, and usually led by Doctor Strange, the team has been, more often than not, a loosely united assemblage of loners, monsters and freaks.
First starting from the 1970's, with several incarnations, iterations, and volumes - of varying success - which have come and gone sporadically through to recent years, Marvel is once again going to try to have this "team" burst forth into the realms of the unknown.

I WANT to enjoy this title.
I truly do.

However, to anyone who has read my past few posts which reviewed material from the upcoming DEFENDERS volume, it may seem obvious that my enthusiasm for the project, as well as my faith in the creative team in charge (writer, Matt Fraction and artist(s), Terry and Rachel Dodson) has all but vaporized.

Those posts dealt with the poor – many should say ‘destructive’ – characterization of Doctor Strange, about to be set into canon by the (perhaps) poisoned pen of Matt Fraction (as well as the unusually sloppy artwork being showcased by the Dodsons).

First, I took issue with the preview pages from DEFENDERS (v4) # 1, and their portrayal of some uncharacteristically unsavory sexual predilections of Stephen Strange, which can be read [HERE]. My unease continued when I read the prequel story that was a part of Marvel’s POINT ONE anthology issue, touted as the roadmap to Marvel’s 2012 publishing direction, and its off-base written and visual handling of Doctor Strange  - which can be found [HERE].

Another source of contention is that with 6 covers for the first issue and at least 2 or 3 covers for each subsequent issue (for each issue solicited, thus far anyway), I am rapidly losing any good-faith with Marvel. With the fleecing-the-flock predatory practices that Marvel is subjecting to its loyal fans, I wonder how much longer I can remain loyal, and not feel like a victim who has finally decided to stop going back for more abuse.

Now, before I launch into a lengthy diatribe, which will come not from some fan-nerd sense of entitlement (“GAH! They’re breaking MY character”), but instead from a position of “unofficial historian and caretaker” of a well-established property, let me just state that it is because I truly care about the proper handling of these modern myths. I don’t wish to see any writer mangle the better, more heroic natures of these 4-color heroes simply because it suits the whim of some half-baked story – or worse, because the writer just felt like it.

 I want to let it be known that I am not against changing a character, be it for “personal growth” or even to keep up with the times, but some changes are obviously wrong-minded and detrimental to the character. I should state that I am not one of those who insist that characters need to be preserved in amber. In fact, some of my favorite tenures of Doctor Strange are from when writers took him into deeply troubling, radically different, supposedly detrimental territory ( - for instance; Peter B. Gillis’ Strange Tales v2 [1987], where he turned Doc to the dark side and transformed him into a practitioner of black magic) . 

Strange Tales v2 # 15
Part of one of my all-time favorite character arcs for Doctor Strange.

The difference is; those had a plan for a complete character arc, a way for him to emerge from the troubled path renewed and refreshed. Fraction’s direction seems more for “coolness’ sake”.  Most likely, these poor changes will be later retconned away, or flat-out ignored by future writers, but still, the missteps can be made, and in this age where everything in the past, present (& future) canon is being reprinted in trade format, and thus available to be read, any missteps are “eternal”. 

The latter is my usual complaint of Marvel’s handling of Doctor Strange these past few years. Too many writers don’t do proper due diligence and neglect to fully research the characters in their charge. Some just fit any character into whatever plot they had in mind, paying little heed as to how the character, based upon their multiple decades of published history, would speak, behave or even if they might do such a thing.

Or, worse still, Marvel has thrown up its collective hands and said; “We have NO IDEA what to do with this character. Do what thou wilt.” It is that devil’s deal which I address first.

“Kitty Porn”:

This is the area, of which, I find myself most perturbed. In the preview to Defenders v4 # 1, Matt Fraction has Doctor Strange engage in an improper sexual hook-up with a nubile, young grad-student who had approached him for help with her thesis research. 

Wrong, Matt Fraction. Wrong on EVERY level.

As far as I can hazard a guess, this is ostensibly due to the ill effects of the rise of NUL (the big bad of the story). Supposedly, Nul is able to influence everyone and everything on earth, for the worse, merely by his being manifest on the physical plane. So, having Stephen Strange fall victim to a poor moral lapse due to this negative nul-effect would be acceptable – and almost excusable.

 In a recent interview [HERE], Fraction states:
 "... I'm doing a creepy, f*cked up Doctor Strange love story right now. The Tom Waits/Doctor Strange song I've always wanted to do. The first time we see Doctor Strange [in Defenders] he's in bed with a girl he shouldn't be in bed with. He's a teacher who sleeps with his students. I think that crosses a line, and I also think it speaks volumes to his character. It's an interesting lack of character.”

“An interesting LACK OF CHARACTER.” But, how can it be a lack of character when it is THE WRITER who just added that wrinkle to the character’s make-up? Never before has Strange done such a thing! And before anyone toss Strange’s carnal relationship with his former disciple; Clea, let me reaffirm that they started as lovers first! (Check out my post on the subject – and read the comment section where the Clea relationship is deeply discussed – [HERE].) Then, when Clea’s natural other-dimensional magical abilities faded away, Strange started to tutor her. While it might have been wrong to do so, while still retaining their intimate relationship, is a source of contention. (As I looked at in a slightly humorous, yet straight-forward examination of their relationship [HERE].) It should also be readily known that Clea, as a denizen of another dimension, is far more long-lived than we mere humans, and is, in fact, centuries old, thus removing any old-man/young-girl sexual accusations from the equation.

Doctor Strange & Clea discuss their Strange relationship
Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 45,
by Chris Claremont (story) and Gene Colan (art)

 I need to be fair and state that Fraction does show a pattern of not-so-coincidentally improper behavior among the other Defenders, who are also involved in improper relations at the story’s beginning. This also hints at a tainting of personages by Nul’s existence. So, in this instance, Strange is not being singled out.

However, Fraction expounds upon his assessment of Strange’s inappropriate sexual proclivities by stating;
Yeah, it's not that you're weird, it's that you're an a**hole. With Doctor Strange, he's a little grungier, a little creepier. Doctor Strange is a creepy dude. He sleeps with his students; he crosses lines most peoples wouldn't cross...”
“…Wolverine has never slept with Kitty Pryde. Doctor Strange totally would.”

Is he serious? Has the man EVER read ANY pre-Bendis-era comics with Doctor Strange? Please, no one tell Steve Ditko of this character maiming, because I truly think that Ditko would flay Fraction alive for such a transgression. Not just to his former creation, but to the heroic ideal itself. 

Many have been the situations where a female character has shown an attraction to Stephen Strange, and in each instance, Strange has politely, but definitively sidestepped the pitfall. Noble. Honorable. This is even in an instance when the woman throwing herself at him was a former incarnation of his then-current girlfriend; Morganna Blessing! One of his lover’s past lives (a hand-maiden of Rama-Tut from Ancient Egypt) – and from whence her deep, soul-mate-level love for him originated – and he politely lets her down easy, only to vanish in a puff of smoke. If ever there was an easy lay, having sex with the young-girl-who is-totally-enamored-and-whose-soul-would-eventually-evolve-into-his-then-girlfriend would BE the easiest of conquests. She was a total groupie for him. And he left her unmolested.

"Hush, Little One. It Is Not Meant To Be."
From Doctor Strange; Master of the Mystic Arts # 53

Stephen Strange has only ever had mature, consensual relations (and/or sex) with adult, fully-consenting women.
If you were to ask me, (or I’d wager, many X-Men fans,) I’d have put good money on Wolverine indeed having HAD sex with some of his young charges. Certainly, I’d believe that his sense of honor would demand that he would turn away any such schoolgirl-crush advances - maybe twice - before he would let it happen, with the thought of; “Hey. I tried to wave ‘em off, but if they want some animal sex… I’m gonna give it to ‘em.” Kitty Pryde might have had no interest, during her younger, Colossus-infatuated years, but later, when she was being trained by Logan, she may have had a weak moment or three and had the primal urge for the strong, male dominance that is Wolverine’s stock-in-trade. Jubilee and some others I can definitely see being attracted to Wolverine (in a “girl-with-daddy-issues” kind of way). But still, whether or not Wolverine ever had improper sexual relations with any of his young students, I know that there is no way that Stephen Strange would do so.

Not that Doctor Strange hasn’t been indirectly accused of such lascivious behavior. In the mostly forgotten mini-series; ‘WITCHES’, (by Brian Patrick Walsh and Mike Deodato) each of the three “Witches”; Satana, Topaz & Jenifer Kale, cast accusations against the others of sleeping with Strange. But, that’s all it amounted to: verbal cat-fighting between the three women. Strange was never in the room when these barbs were tossed about.

As listed in my complete listing of every woman that Stephen Strange has had any kind of romantic relationship (that epic post can be found [HERE]), there was even a case (in a recent Marvel Christmas Special) where the female heroes; Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, Monica “Photon” Rambeau and Patsy “Hellcat” Walker teased Angelica “Firestar” Jones about her infatuation with Dr. Strange. They told her to buy a sheer, negligee and just show up at his door. He was never a part of this exchange. But, this was also (I hope) lighthearted fun, as the age difference (even without taking Strange’s true age into account, as he was born in 1930,) or should I say the “apparent” age difference - since he no longer ages as a mortal (due to his defeating "death", as I discussed in detail in a previous post [HERE])- would still be too large for an “appropriate” relationship. Firestar’s “love” of Strange was the by-product of a reverse “Florence Nightingale syndrome”, since he helped to administer to her during her battle with breast cancer.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t cases where a much older man is married to a very much younger woman, but those usually fall within the realms of foreign-countries with outdated marital arrangements, rich old billionaires and the gold-digging floozies who want to give them myocardial infarctions to inherit their wealth, and Elvis Presley with his child-bride (I’d even list Woody Allen and his “daughter”, but that is just TOO weird).

While I appreciate trying to return the creepiness-factor to Doctor Strange – a trait that he has been sorely lacking over much of his history – being a sexual predator is NOT the way to do it. This is an especially touchy subject recently, as the Penn-State sex conspiracy is a hot-button issue everywhere in the country. A trusted, older person, tasked with the enlightening of a younger person’s horizons, should never do so “horizontally”.

“Strange Tales”:

Counterbalanced, and to bring me back to his good graces, Fraction adds:

“Back in Strange Tales (vol 1), there are stories where he's in an ascot, waistcoat and fedora fighting wraiths in weird back alleys of unspecified Asian countries. I wanted that vibe from that first year or two of Strange Tales.”

To this I say; “I hope he succeeds!” Those Ditko/Lee Strange Tales issues are among the very BEST of the Doctor Strange stories, and a style only infrequently revisited in Strange’s subsequent history. 

Strange Tales v1 # 131
Lee / Ditko

But, as I made mention in my blog post about the Point One issue, I surely hope that Terry Dodson learns how to properly draw a hat.

But, he follows up with:

“Do you know what my way into Doctor Strange was? James Spader. Would you want to be on a road trip with James Spader? Just imagine three days in a car with James Spader. It's that "you're not from around here" feeling. He's a metric dude in a standard world. He's silently judging you constantly because he knows more than you…”

While truly a fan of James Spader, I don’t see him as the “voice” of Doctor Strange. Certainly, he has the dry, wry, knowledge-fu delivery that can be an interesting take, but if you are looking for someone with whom to liken the “creepy, know-more-than-you” aspect of Doctor Strange, I would suggest Jeff Goldblum. Just the way that Goldblum LOOKS at you is unnerving. When he speaks, you feel. Freaked. Out. (and not to mention, dumber then he is).

Heck, if you want to be on a road trip and get spooked out of your mind, sit in the passenger seat on a trip with Christopher Walken. Or Crispin Glover. That’ll teach you not to hitch-hike a ride.

I also put forth the truly classically accurate suggestion of Vincent Price. Price was known for his sojourns into the darker side of characterization. Not only a master thespian, known for his dramatic delivery, Vincent Price was also a fiercely intelligent man – an accomplished art historian and chef. Price possessed all that and his creepy voice, mannerisms and chilling laugh.

I have trepidations about Fraction’s infatuation of James Spader. Spader’s most recent star roles are from “Boston Legal”, where he played an affected, sexually dysfunctional and predatory, morally challenged bizarro, and now his taking over the lead role in “The Office”, as a manipulative executive shows me that Fraction is looking in the wrong direction for his inspiration.

Still, I am unsure WHY Fraction needs a "way in" to Doctor Strange at all. You know what MY "way into" Doctor Strange was? Reading DOCTOR STRANGE!

“No one likes the Golden-Child”:

The sexual misconduct, and Spader-ness aren’t the only missteps in Matt Fraction’s approach to the Defenders title. In fact, it is but a minor, easily explained away, error of judgment as compared to the real problem. Fraction has set in motion some universe-spanning machination that is supposed to “explain everything” in how the Marvel Universe came to be – the heroes, the history, everything. He’s likening it to Einstein’s oft-sought-after “Grand Unification Theory”.

Fraction states that everything that has happened, and will happen has been the secret cultivation of some outside force.
However, the very nature of having a “method” behind the madness of the Marvel Universe betrays the very essence of what it is that causes it to be special – or even relatable. The very nature of fandom for these characters is that, in some cases, a reader can picture themselves in the place of their favorite heroes- if only the accident or happenstance that led to the fictional person becoming a superhuman would have instead happened to them (and, y’know… that you’d get spider-powers and not cancer from a radioactive arachnid bite, or that a trip to study at the feet of a Himalayan guru would give you occult mastery, and not just a deep sense of harmony with the universe).

I am talking about the “chosen one” dilemma. Not to get into the theological debate of Calvinism vs Catholicism vs Lutheranism vs Unitarianism, but If things “happen for a reason” or more to the point; if things happen to a predestined plan of some cosmic googum, then there exists little (or no) hope that the possibility of greatness could be bestowed upon an average Joe (or Jane) of the 99% of us. Instead, the golden apple is held out of reach, except only for the select few. The 1%.

There have been a few instances of writers branding Doctor Strange as a “chosen one”, and that he was predestined to become the Sorcerer that he would become and that the Ancient One even protected him as a child, to ensure his continuing along the path. This ruins the “road to redemption” aspect of Strange’s origin, that it was only through great loss, soul-searching and acceptance of a greater power than he that he was able to ascend to greater heights. Personal growth.
There have even been similar attempts to introduce the same “chosen one” status to heroes like Spider-Man – the ultimate example (aside from Batman) of an origin that any child can imagine as being possible for them.

Such secret puppetry with invisible strings connected to an all-powerful hand diminishes the specialness of the heroic ideal. Despite the tag-line, Captain Universe may NOT be the hero who could be you or me. Perhaps the uni-force doesn’t come to anyone that needs it, but only those whom the cosmic machine has pre-selected. Truly Deux ex Machina.

A hero may or may not truly have free will to act heroically, but instead is merely performing a part, pre-written for them, like a play where they are unknowing performers.

To help counterbalance this, Matt Fraction details;

“… It's not about what-if minutiae stuff. I wanted to tell a story about the root of all the Marvel myths. What if there was a reason why they happened? What if it was something that was grown and cultivated rather than this collection of stories that we happen to be looking at? I wanted to tell a story about the Marvel Universe, not about the specifics. Every now and again, a pawn gets all the way down the board and gets to upgrade. The Defenders are pawns that have accidentally made their way down the board and get to upgrade and learn a little bit more.”

The idea of his last line there, that every so often someone gets to look behind the cosmic veil to gain a “level-up” of knowledge is an exciting one. There is a famous illustration from a centuries-old woodcut that portrays an ancient philosopher (or truth-seeker) peering beyond the curtain of the sky to behold the mysteries of the cosmos beyond. This image has always held some fascination for me, as it is a basic representation of all that we, as humans, strive to attain. The same sense of curiosity that caused man to leave the safety of the cave and to eventually voyage to the stars, is portrayed in this sentiment.

 colorized adaptation of a centuries-old woodcut

To have the Defenders be the cosmic seekers of truth (or, finders of truth) is an exciting prospect. 

With this direction - and the fact that due to the nature of the threat, the team is made physically unable to even discuss the conflict they are in - the best title for this title would have been; THE SECRET DEFENDERS. That seems more appropriate now than it was for the 1990's Defenders series of the same name. 

However, if the truth is that they find that the Prime Mover and the Shaper of Worlds are putting on a puppet show on the Earth, that would be less ideal.

“The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating”:

Lest I be accused of criticizing a product before it has even been released, I assure you that I have tried to be as fair and balanced as I can – given what evidence has been made available.

But, to act as my own defender… if you are being given an official, behind-the-scenes tour into the inner workings of a 5-star restaurant, and the chef is showing you his very best recipe for a pudding, but his ingredients are all wrong (or, perhaps even poisonous) – would you want to eat the pudding? Or even want to dine there anymore at all? 

Still, tastes differ, and I am sure that there will be many fans who will not see anything wrong with the handling of the characters and title’s direction, and may absolutely love it. Who is to say that they are wrong? Especially, if what we are being shown as teasers and previews are not the best representations of the title.

Still, as someone who can safely state to be a bit of a resource on the history and overall character of Doctor Strange, I am wary. However, I await the first few issues and hope that my concerns are addressed and allayed by some rational explanations in the plots.  

I WANT to enjoy this title.
I truly do.

I have read the issue and gave a FULL review of it [HERE].
The long and the short of it: It's not bad. But it's not very good either.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

From A TURKEY of a DUCK!

to all my American friends!
(And a Happy Thursday, to all the rest of the world.)

From Howard the Duck and Beverly Switzer!

Since my previous Thanksgiving posts dealt with Doctor Strange (the Sanctum Sanctorum as a part of the MACY's Thanksgiving Day Parade [HERE]), (the culinary tastes of Doctor Strange -[HERE]), I was looking for some sort of image that might feature either of my other blog-centric characters (Man-Thing, ROM; Spaceknight, etc...) and thought that it shouldn't be too difficult to find one of Howard the Duck facing the fate of a Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Face to face (so to speak) with a cooked cousin.

Turns out... it has been hinted at, and alluded to, but never shown outright.
Weird. I would have thought the threat of being plucked, stuffed and basted would have been a default threat for our favorite feathered fowl.

But, not to be deterred, I came across some stills from the 1986 Howard The Duck film and I knew that I had found my image(s).

Seen as a TURKEY in its own right, that movie, while ROASTED, and lambasted for the gastrointestinal discomfort experienced by most (if not all) of those who have ever seen it, has always held a sweet spot in my heart.
I always come back for a second-helping.
Seriously. I truly like that movie, Marvel's very FIRST official big-screen outing.

And one of the reasons is Lea Thompson, as Howard's human love; Beverly Switzer.

So, without further ado... I present some pics (trust me, there are plenty more - and far naughtier photos - that I could have posted) to show Howard... OBVIOUSLY THANKFUL for the bounty which has come into his life!

(The easiest jokes would be something about: "would you prefer breast or thigh?", stuffing, a wishbone and saying grace... but I won't do it.)

I, however, am thankful for many things, not the least of which are my many readers and the fine friendship which they show to me and my blog.
I love you all.

Howard does too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

With The Aid of Time Travel...
My 3rd Anniversary Blog Post!

I made it to 3 years on this blog!
Who hoo!

OK. Actually, my bloggiversary was OCTOBER 11th.
But things have been SO DARN HECTIC around here that it was impossible to put together the required mega-post in time.

SO... with the aid of internet "time-travel" technology (back-dating posts), I have popped the actual post into the proper slot where it belongs (a month ago - sheesh!).

Filled with links to the "VERY BEST" of my Oct. 11 2010 - Oct 11, 2011 blog posts, it is a readers delight - and valuable resource for anyone wanting a "table of contents" for this blog.

Please feel free to go check it out - [HERE]

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Marvel’s highly-touted, intensely hyped “POINT ONE” (# 1) issue has dropped and it is purportedly a preview of the big things to come in the Marvel Universe for 2012.

With 6 short preview stories - all tied together by a flimsy 7th encapsulating "Watcher" story, my primary interest in the issue was for the DOCTOR STRANGE /  DEFENDERS preview story written by Matt Fraction and with art by Terry & Rachel Dodson. I can only say that if this issue is to be a roadmap, then this story seemed to be a speed-bump - or worse, a “wrong way” sign in that road.

The scattered leaf effect is the ONLY thing about this page that I like.
That mustache needs its own postal code.
Is that supposed to be an EAR on the side of DOC's head?
And "...My Village, and I am her magician"...? Ugh. Really?

The story, “The SHAMAN of GREENWICH VILLAGE” tries to hearken back to two landmarks in the publishing history of Dr. Strange and the Defenders; Doctor Strange’s first appearance in Strange Tales # 110, and his return to magic (and his joining the Defenders) in (the back-up tale of) Marvel Feature # 1 (also the first appearance of the Defenders).  A teaser that has Doctor Strange discovering the traces of a great cosmic mystery and the involvement of a new roster of Defenders, this story fails to meet the mark of the classic Steve Ditko / Stan Lee Strange Tales story as well as the Marvel Feature issue.

The allusion comes via Strange’s investigation of a sleep-affected individual (ala Strange Tales # 110) as well as his initial stroll through the village, the gathering of the Defenders and his story-end re-affirmation to his task (ala Marvel Feature # 1).

It starts off with, Groucho Marx is walking along Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Wait. That’s NOT supposed to be Groucho? It’s supposed to be Doctor Strange? With THAT mustache? Oh. OK. Whatever.

Anyway, Stephen Strange is wandering down the streets of the village and in a very man-on-the-street manner, speaks of one of the denizens of the area; “Notebook Joe”, who acts as a personal grimoire of the village’s history - secret or otherwise. This he does by soliciting individuals to write their observations and experiences into composition notebooks. That is a factoid that is proven useless since only Joe’s own stream-of-consciousness somnambulist-written notebooks will come into play in the story. Mentioning that there are others who feed him information is a dead-end plot point. It would be just as effective if Joe were to have produced all his “writings” on his own.

An apparently major error is that in his musings of “Notebook Joe”, Strange states that Joe has been in the village even longer than he. I fear, from what I have seen of his handling of Doctor Strange, that Matt Fraction is yet another writer who doesn’t research the characters he writes all that well. For in Marvel’s own official wiki (and handbook entry) [HERE] of Doctor Strange, (even taking into account the “10-year sliding timeline”) Strange has been residing as a sorcerer in his Sanctum Sanctorum since the late 1960’s (or early 1970’s – depending on how many years he spent in search of a cure for his nerve-damaged hands until journeying to seek the Ancient One). Joe isn’t portrayed in the artwork as being over the age of maybe 40-something. So, unless Doc is counting Joe’s years as an infant, there’s no way Joe is there longer. According to the story, Joe was an archeology grad-student and saw the cosmic mystery which – for all intents and purposes – took his mind, and then he came back to NYC and spent his life ever since on the streets. It was stated as happening “decades ago”, and even if we put Joe’s age in his 60’s, that would mean that coming to NYC as a late 20s to 30-something grad-student, he was in NYC for approximately 30 years. That is still a shorter span than Doc’s tenure. Certainly, if Joe were drawn as a late 60's – 70+ year old man, this wouldn’t be a point. But as shown, it is just a further reminder that modern Marvel knows not its roots. That, despite his appearance, Stephen Strange is far older than most others around him (with the exception of guys like Captain America, Thor, and/or Wolverine).

So, unless the artwork mistakenly drew Joe as being too young, there’s just no way he is old enough. But that brings me to one major problem that I have with the creative team; the artwork presented here (and in the preview of issue # 1 - which I blogged about [HERE]) by the team of Terry and Rachel Dodson is too cartoony and slack for my tastes (and saying that, I am saying it for ONLY MY tastes. I’d expect some readers to like it). It’s in the realm of the “manga-esque”, which I know is popular, but too close to “kiddie manga” than “serious manga” for my belief of what this series’ mission statement has led me to believe is its intended objective; to showcase the weird and arcane secrets of the Marvel Universe.

But, to point to something specific, to start with, as with my mustache comment earlier, there is far too much that is wrong with the artwork and Terry’s portrayal of Stephen Strange. First off, Strange is looking de-aged (maybe that’s why “Notebook Joe” also looks too young. Maybe Terry Dodson’s characters skew young. Certainly, the female artist-friend; Abby, whom, in the story, is said to have sold a series of paintings in the 1980's doesn't look old enough to have even used crayons in her coloring books in that decade). Perhaps, it just the fact that Dodson has all but grecian-formula’d away all of the white hair at Doc’s temples, and “Village-people’d” up the volume of his mustache. Even his gestures and posture are off character. It just doesn’t seem like Doctor Strange. (At least not to this loooong-term reader.) As for Stephen Strange’s apparel, this is not the first time that Strange has been portrayed as a 3-piece suit wearing dapper dandy. It’s a look, of which, that I will approve. As a nitpick, I wish Terry Dodson would learn how to draw a hat. The thing on Strange’s head is no hat that I’ve ever seen. A strange mixture of fedora top with bowler derby brim. Some panels it’s drawn as a fedora top and other panels it’s seemingly all derby. And always just plopped on his head at a weird angle.

The characterization isn’t only the problem of the artwork, however. Matt Fraction also has Strange behaving in a manner which he has never been previously portrayed. Stephen Strange has ever been a secretive and reclusive mystic. Not one to visit one local artist and sit, lotus position, in her living room to astrally project himself into the dreams of another. I don’t mind some kind of growth on the part of fictional characters, but I tend to like to see the character arc, and not have it be sprung on me, full-blown, with it happening between appearances. Even taking Brian Bendis’ treamtment of Strange over in the Avengers titles, this is an otherwise new, bright and friendly, touchy-feely Stephen Strange.
That is, except for when a modicum of personality might have been required; such as when Joe dies - Strange just abandons the artist friend; Abby, by spouting that Joe has just died as he runs out the door with Joe's notebooks. A moment to console Abby might have been nice. But sure... only a few pages to tell the story. Whatever. Still bad characterization. A one-line; "So sorry, Abby. Joe is dead. This is terrible! Are you going to be OK?" statement would only have taken the space of one word balloon.

And, as the title of this blog post will allude, there is one HUGE friggin’ problem with this story, and truthfully, the main reason that I decided to write this review. While Doctor Strange is in the dreamscape of “Notebook Joe”, he has a 3rd eye visible on his forehead.

This has always, ever been the actual EYE of AGAMOTTO, released from its housing in the amulet, that would alight upon Strange’s brow, to help him see into the realms unseen. NEVER, has there been any other eye to perform that task. And with the EYE of AGAMOTTO’s apparent destruction in the pages of NEW AVENGERS v2 # 6  (as detailed in this epic post [HERE]), this shouldn’t be possible. Perhaps this is a “lesser quality” Eye, made manifest via some incantation, but alas, there is no indication in this story of the origin on this eye. It is just there.
Is this the fault of the writer or the artist? If in the plot, then Fraction needs to bone up on the mystic weapons that Strange has at his disposal. If it’s to be a new trick up Strange’s sleeve (or between his eyes), then the method of its appearance should have been revealed in this preview story. It’s already been stated that this Defenders series is being produced “Marvel style”, with the writer producing a basic plot, the artist drawing the pages by extrapolating events from that, and then the writer scripting the events as portrayed in the artwork. Due to this process, it is possible that Terry Dodson drew the eye on the forehead as a reference to Doctor Strange’s abilities of old, without knowledge of the history of the EYE – purely as a visual treat. It has, sadly, been well over a decade or more since any story has had Doctor Strange call the Eye to his brow, so it is likely that there are many new readers who may not know of the history of the spell/effect/visual. Sure, it's cool. But there is a method and reason for it that is not being explained - or even possible in the classic usage. Either way, this team needs to cram on Doctor Strange history. Or at the very least, ask of the learned “scholars” at their disposal – be it on the internet (I’ll be glad to offer any help to their questions) or old-school comic historians like Peter Sanderson.

Considering that this story, and the issue it appears within, is to be a big, important showcase into the workings of Marvel’s upcoming year of output, it should have been a product of nothing but the very best that the creative teams could produce.

Sadly, nearly each of the 7 total short preview stories were of equally bad quality.
Either poor writing, rushed-looking artwork, or flimsy plots marred the bulk of the project.
For those who wish to know, the other stories were:

Behold the Watcher
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Javier Pulido

Nova: Harbinger
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciller: Ed McGuinness

Age of Apocalypse: The Myth of Man
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: Roberto De La Torre

Scarlet Spider: The Scarlet Thread
Writer: Chris Yost
Penciller: Ryan Stegman

Coldmoon & Dragonfire: Yin and Yang
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Salvador Larroca

Doctor Strange: The Shaman of Greenwich Village
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciller: Terry Dodson

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Bryan Hitch

Each of these stories are lacking in any real "wow" factor. The Bendis Avengers tale being the possible best, purely due to the severity of the alternate future being shown wherein Ultron rules all. Unfortunately, it acts purely as a set-up, giving no information whatsoever as to the story at large.

The others:

Coldmoon & Dragonfire are Marvel's new "Wonder Twins" (siblings who have opposite powers but they are stronger when in contact with each other). A lame attempt at new character creation.

Scarlet Spider: purely trying to cash in on those fans who long for the crappiness of the 1990's Clone Saga debacle.

Age of Apokolype: Yet another alternate X-Men future, but one where humans are the hunted, near-extinct species fighting against the ruling mutant population.

Nova: Harbinger: The Phoenix force is coming! And Jeph Loeb attempts to write it. (And "Epic Fails" - a joke you'll get when you read this tripe.)

And... Behold The Watcher: An unknown race is seeking the Watcher's intel, and is planning on killing him to get it. Writing is substandard and the art was a poor man's Steve Ditko.

All in all, I feel that this issue was more of an afterthought, to cash in, and the quality present in this POINT ONE issue seems to support my belief. If not, and it was a planned-in-advance "event" - as reported - then the editorial staff didn't ensure that only the very best quality be present in this 2012 primer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11:11 o'clock

While not a cosmic syzygy, the palindromic date of 11-11-11 does touch upon the mystical, primal nature of mankind. Our wish that something magical will alight upon our lives and create change.

Warren Ellis and Mark Buckingham

Here's to change.
Better things on the horizon.

Dedicated to NeilAlieN; Palindromic Master of the Mystic Arts

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dr. Strange scoring some "strange" seems so... strange

Earlier today, I read a 4 page preview of the new DEFENDERS (vol 4) # 1, by Matt Fraction and Terry/Rachel Dodson over at CBR [HERE], and I find myself becoming... disenchanted by the forthcoming new DEFENDERS series.

Let's go back a few months first, shall we?
When the release of a new DEFENDERS series was announced back in July of this year, I blogged favorably [HERE] about the promise of this new volume of the title. Sure, I wasn't won over 100%, but I was more than willing to give all benefit of the doubt to Matt Fraction to deliver something worthwhile.

However, after reading the 4 page preview, those doubts are now growing, and the benefit of my good nature is starting to wane.

Well, "starting" isn't all that accurate.

Even in that original announcement blog post, I showed some dislike over the looser art style that artist-team of Terry and Rachel Dodson were putting forth for the promo materials and initial cover art. I hoped it would be of better quality when it all came to press, but I did state that it didn't seem that was going to be so. (The jury is still out on that one.)

Also, readers of my Twitter feed will know that yesterday I tweeted about my disdain over Marvel's producing 5 covers (yes, that means 4 variant covers) for DEFENDERS # 1.
*UPDATE: There were 6 COVERS! (5 VARIANTS!!!) - GAH!

This multiple cover B.S. is getting to be worse than it ever was in the dreaded boom-and-bust 1990's.
At least THEN there was a thriving economy. Now, we are still mired in the worst economic environment since the Great Depression, and comics cost $4.00 cover price. No telling how much of a price gouging retailers will put on "rare" variants.
So, for Marvel (and any other publisher) to be trying to pull this kind of predatory practice smacks of all that is wrong with the "anything to get a buck" mentality of corporations. (Hey! Let's start the "Occupy Marvel" movement.)

Just for the sake of complete transparency, here's my tweet:
"SanctumBlog So. DEFENDERS # 1 will have 5 covers!? This is getting worse than the 1990's. But there was economic BOOM then. F#@% YOU, Marvel. Seriously."

Anyway, Marvel's greedy practices of nerd-fleecing are not the point of this particular post.
What IS the point of the matter is this brief, but totally uncharacteristic portrayal of Stephen Strange, wherein he is shown to have just bedded a young grad-student, taking advantage of the young lady, who had basically contacted him to help her with her thesis on occult something-or-other, out of her probable respect and fan-worship of his status as head mystic of the M.U.

Bad form, Stephen.

Is that his place or hers? And is she wearing CLEA leggings? Was there some role-playing going on?

OK. So she IS pretty hot.
Sexy, smart, nerdy girls just DO IT for me, okay?
And she's into magick (with a "k"), so she's also a little on the goth side of the street. I'd fall for her too.

A point could be made that she is of legal age, and as such, is not an improper sexual partner. Even for the far older Strange (seriously, according to Marvel's OFFICIAL bio of him, he was born in 1930). However, she came to him in his capacity as a role-model and more experienced scholar of mystic lore. Any kind of activity such as this scene shows is a serious breach of trust on his part.

As she also points out, in a morning-after accusation, that no matter how much he may be able to help her, Stephen Strange's taking advantage of this young, eager "groupie" has hurt her far more.

Oddly enough, Strange then allows himself to ruminate upon the dalliance as something both moreso and less-than anything more than just a night of sex.

"What he wanted most wasn't on the menu"

In one narrative breath, Stephen Strange admits to a deep longing for the girl, the admission that she was "just" a girl (and thus, a toss-away hook-up), and the admission that perhaps his indiscretion was due to the deep human fear of dying alone.


In what previous scenario has Stephen Strange ever shown an inclination for ANY of those three thoughts?!? With perhaps the exclusion of the "height-of-his-own-hubris", "pre-nerve-damaging-career-ending-accident" years as a surgeon, Stephen Strange has always been on the opposite end of the spectrum of each of those beliefs.

NONE of this makes any sense to anyone who has read the character for more than a few issues (of non-Bendis-era stories), and as of the time of this writing, this is taken from a 4-page preview of DEFENDERS vol4 # 1 and as such, I have no way of knowing what the explanation for such a poor piece of character assassination might be.

Either, this new Stephen Strange is a by-product of a new "laid-back" acceptance of his no longer being the Sorcerer Supreme, and his own willingness to try "living" like one of us regular folks, or it is a detrimental by-product of the ill-effect caused by the baddie of the story (NUL, the WorldBreaker - last seen possessing the HULK in Fear Itself) - OR - worse still... is a by-product of Marvel editorial and yet another Marvel writer just not understanding the character and/or history of Doctor Stephen Strange (and possibly trying to "Peter Parker" him a bit to appeal to the younger demographic).

I can only hope that my 2nd theory is the accurate one, and that the reality-twisting, despair-raising events being caused by Nul, that are being portrayed in the first two pages of the preview are indeed what has caused Strange to take leave of his senses and abuse his position as a respected and learned man in order to get some hot-college-girl action.

Am I a prude who is against seeing Doctor Strange get some "strange" (the slang term for sex with an otherwise unknown partner)? No.
I'm not offended by the sex. Nope. Give him Night Nurse or Clea, or Sister Nil or someone that makes SENSE... but this? It just seems "beneath" him (sorry, that is not meant to be a euphemism or double-entendre'. If I wanted to make one of those I'd have noted that having the much older Strange on top of the younger girl would make it an "Improper FRACTION" - and thus play up writer Matt Fraction's name).

In fact, I have posted a long list of every known instance of Stephen Strange's loves and hook-ups and it shows the character to have had a fairly consistent pattern of sexual growth and activity, against which that this particular liaison just fails to be justified.
Sadly, I have to add this incident to that list.
You can check out all of Strange's other loves, lusts and hook-ups there - [HERE].

Now, I will say that right after the panels that I have shown, in the same diner scene, Doctor Strange uses a little rudimentary divination spell to try to determine what kind of event is on the horizon. I appreciate the practical magick. Small, subtle uses of the craft can be excellent touches (it doesn't always have to be the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, y'know). That was where the 4 page preview ended - and so I have no way of knowing - for sure - how this will all play out and if any of my theories will come into play and if my fear of Strange's being mishandled in the series has any merit, or if Matt Fraction will indeed pull off an interesting, odd and different Stephen Strange - for good or ill.

Go and check out the preview for yourself [HERE] (since the CBR preview was an exclusive for them, and as such, I do not wish to usurp their position by showing more than a brief portion of the pages).

Then come back and check out that thorough and complete history of all of Stephen Strange's assorted romances. Presented to you in order of their appearances IN HIS LIFE (not in publication history) - [HERE].